Natural Search Blog


Google Annotates The Web Through Sidewiki

Google has introduced a new feature in the toolbar called the Sidewiki. Users can post and read comments about any website that appear on a pane on the left hand side of their browser. An example showing this is presented below.

google sidewiki

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Is Verizon Responsible for Idearc’s Bankruptcy?

Idearc's Bankruptcy Caused by Verizon?My op-ed piece, “Idearc’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Who’s Really Responsible?” published today on Search Engine Land, and in it I put forth my position that Verizon is responsible for spinning off the company with an unreasonably huge debt load, and the people ultimately paying the bill are the stockholders.

I describe in the article how Verizon spun off Idearc Media (division which publishes print phone books and operates Superpages.com among other online yellow pages), and set that company up to pay back some billions of dollars for its worth. Verizon then turned around and resold those debt instruments to other companies, fully divesting itself of ownership in the new, standalone company.

This sequence in of itself isn’t remarkable – it’s the normal process a company might go through when spinning-off part of itself to form a new company.

But, my contention is that it was done so in a highly irresponsible manner. Verizon had to know beforehand that print directory business was going into shrinkage mode, and that the debt repayment structure would simply be too much for the new company to be reasonably expected to be able to handle. If so, then this could be expected to be a form of fraudulent conveyance, and Verizon could be culpable.

Is my contention outrageous?

Well, even Idearc’s Chief Executive, Scott Klein, has been paraphrased by the Wall Street Journal as saying “Everyone was aware that ‘$9 billion was really more debt than this business could bear’”. So, Idearc was spun off with a majority of this debt from Verizon from the start – clearly set up to fail.

So far, I’ve seen maybe three different law firms filing class-action lawsuits against Idearc and its executives, based on the premise that the stock tanked due to them secretly changing policies, resulting in inflated-looking sales on the books for businesses with higher likelihoods of not paying for contracted advertising. But, I think the real culprit in all this is likely Verizon – they pushed off a part of the company with an untenable debt load, in large part to pay off debts incurred by Verizon FiOS (Verizon’s fiber optic network) expansion.

Decider Enters Local Search

Decider logoHumorous faux-newspaper, The Onion, has launched a new local directory site called Decider in beta. While The Onion is famous for its satirical “news” articles, Decider is a decidedly serious guide intended to complement their other offerings like serious classifieds and the A.V. Club (The Onion’s arts and entertainment site).

Decider brings local business listings for bars, restaurants, music venues, events, and reviews. It appears to be targeted to the college-to-early-thirties demographic, and sports advertisements on the pages.

When I heard about Decider, I immediately though, “oh, yet another business directory site among the many others,” — a thought apparently shared to some degree by Andrew Shotland. (more…)

Local Search Behemoth InfoSpace Cashed Out

Last year when InfoSpace decided to sell off Switchboard, other directories, and their mobile services, I wondered if they were just cashing out. Yesterday’s New York Times article, “Once an Internet Giant, InfoSpace Dismantles Itself“, would appear to verify that they did indeed cash out.

Infospace (more…)

Whitepages.com Acquiring Snapvine, Focuses On Community Development

WhitePages.com Snapvine MergerWhitePages.com is acquiring Snapvine, a service that allows people to associate audio files with various resources like social networks, photos, text, and blogs. Snapvine enables facilitates voice blogs, similar to podcasting, but perhaps with a little greater ease.

WhitePages states on their blog that they’ll use Snapvine’s technology to provide their users with free, private voicemail boxes. In addition, WhitePages will roll out other features such as email and SMS services.

I think this signals that WhitePages.com will be pursuing community development as an ongoing strategy to maintain and build their traffic. This could be a really strong strategy — encouranging community engagement could drive up usage and associated ad revenues considerably for the residential listings directory. WhitePages.com also offers yellow pages directory service through a partnership with Idearc’s Superpages.com.

Considering the rise of Twitter and other mobile phone services, VOIP applications like Snapvine could be poised to be the next big thing.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the deal likely comes in below previous valuations for Snapvine.

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Digital Graffiti Goes Mainstream: TIME Magazine Article

I noticed that TIME covered the laser graffiti artists of the Graffiti Research Lab this week. Nearly a year ago, I covered the phenomenon of guerrilla marketing via laser light images “drawn” on the sides of buildings at night.

Laser Message on Building, Barcelona

Having this covered in a mainstream rag like TIME is probably nearly enough to make the concept jump the shark, and the novelty element and guerrilla marketing value could be virtually annihilated by familiarity.

I’m not really complaining so much as noting the effect — and noting that the promotion value of the medium could become rapidly eroded when it’s too common. The novelty and amusement factor could give way to annoyance if laser displayed images on buildings became frequent. When a methodology hits mainstream, it’s no longer “guerrilla”. :-)

Where’s Waldo in Google Earth

In a very clever bit of marketing, Canadian artist Melanie Coles has created a large rooftop image of the iconic character found in the popular Where’s Waldo? book series.

Where's Waldo in Google Maps?
(click to enlarge)

The image is located somewhere in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was created with the specific intention of being findable via Google Earth (warning, I have the location pinpointed in a link and geocoordinates at the end of this post). It will be a while before Waldo can be found in Google Earth (or in Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, or MS Live Search Maps, for that matter), because there is a time lag in between when satellite images and aerial photos get updated in those services — so, it could be six months to a year before the image is really findable and viewable online.

The image was created as a demonstration of a viral game for Coles’ graduation art project at the Emily Carr Institute. Her blog statement on the project says: (more…)

Consumers: Stop Dropping Yellow Pages Books At Our Doors!

Walking FingersI noticed this article from Boston today, “Bothersome business pages“, which outlines residents’ irritation over receiving print directories which go unused.

I’m seeing more and more articles on the subject — this article indicates that as consumers perceive that there’s low usage and little need for print yellow pages books, they’re also coming to believe that the books sent to them are an inconvenience and an unacceptable environmental waste. (I’ve also mentioned before how I find the print directories less worthwhile, even though I used to work for a major yellow pages company.)

Apparently the Cambridge city council and other cities are actually considering going so far as to enact laws requiring that residents must opt-in for receiving the books, or they might ban mass distribution entirely… (more…)

Google Puts News On The Map

Google has partnered with the New York Times to put news on the map — the NYT has apparently begun geotagging their news stories so that Google can associate news items with particular locations around the world. The Google Earth application can now be used to browse around a map of the world, and headlines are associated with their places of origin.

Newspapers have been very fearful of the internet and have lost revenue from their print side to free internet alternatives. But, it’s clear that embracing greater integration with interactive technologies is one viable way to remain competitive.

Corporate Blogging: Too Legally Dicey To Allow?

This article at CNET, “Corporate employee blogs: Lawsuits waiting to happen?“, caught my eye. Large corporations definitely feel nervous about allowing all their employees to have a public voice, but I think it’s now something that must be allowed, and good common-sense management can be used to help avoid some of the risk of lawsuits such as the one mentioned in the article involving Cisco.

Some companies’ legal departments think that blogging is just too risky to allow, and that it’s not worth the time and administrative headache to try to manage. The problem that I see with this is that it causes a company to be stuck in a Business 1.0 world of the past, disallowing the grass-roots-level public relations that employees can provide — blogging allows a big corporation to have a human face and can help explain and communicate what the company is up to. (more…)

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